Andrews calls for probe over Midfield deal

STATE Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews will call on the state’s corruption watchdog to investigate Premier Denis Napthine over a $1.5 million government grant and land sale to a leading Warrnambool business and racing figure with whom the Premier co-owns a thoroughbred racehorse.

Premier Denis Napthine has denied there is anything untoward in his dealings with Midfield boss Colin McKenna.

Premier Denis Napthine has denied there is anything untoward in his dealings with Midfield boss Colin McKenna.

Dr Napthine has denied any conflicts of interest over the grant from the government’s $1 billion Regional Growth Fund.

The call for an Independent Broad-Based Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC) probe follows Fairfax Media revelations that Dr Napthine is in partnership in the racehorse Spin the Bottle with Colin McKenna, the head of expanding meat processor the Midfield Group.

Mr Andrews is planning to write to IBAC highlighting possible conflicts of interest for the Premier over his relationship with Mr McKenna, who is a committee member at Warrnambool Racing Club.

The Opposition Leader said IBAC needs to “look at this in full’’.

“There are very serious questions here and they need to be answered,’’ Mr Andrews told ABC Radio.

“If it’s all above board, if there’s nothing to fear, well then the Premier should have no trouble handing over all records, all communications,’’ he said.

“And he ought to establish, not just say, but actually establish that he had no involvement at all in the granting of $1.5 million to not only his mate but someone he owns a racehorse with.’’

Yesterday morning Dr Napthine angrily denied any conflict of interest, stressing that the grant decision was made by regional development minister Peter Ryan after a recommendation by his department.

Dr Napthine said the decision was made with the endorsement of the Warrnambool City Council.

“I was not involved in the processing of endorsing or approving that grant,’’ he said.

The Premier also noted that the former Brumby Labor government had also made grants to Midfield.

And he said that when he bought his share in Spin the Bottle he did not know who the other part-owners were.

Dr Napthine owns a share of Spin the Bottle in his own name. Mr McKenna’s share is in the name of Halo Racing Services Pty Ltd. Halo is fully owned by Mr McKenna’s CB McKenna Investments Pty Ltd.

But the grant to Midfield, and the Premier’s connections to Mr McKenna, also raise uncomfortable questions about the rationale for hand-outs to business — especially cashed-up ones — through the government’s $1 billion Regional Growth Fund. 

- THE AGE

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